RNC goes on without Jacksonville

And the shipyards might need a new construction partner

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed all but certain that the Republican National Convention (RNC) would be moving from Charlotte to Jacksonville. While a few formal events were still planned for North Carolina, the majority of the event’s schedule had been shifted to Jacksonville. The whole planning was a disaster, and luckily we’ve ultimately been spared any participation in it.

Well, except the rounds of national headlines that are likely to embarrass Jacksonville reputation for years to come: first that we’d be foolish enough to host the convention at a time like this; and then that we weren’t even able to pull that off. Many local businesses had invested heavily in the planned event, and they’ll be disappointed to know that all they’re getting out of it is a bad public image for the place they live and call home.

It’s ok though. Jacksonville still has plenty of other things going for it. Like the Jaguars. And we’ve got big plans for property that’s sat undeveloped. There’s the Regency Square Mall – or this week’s biggest local story: the Jacksonville Shipyards.

A long, long time ago…

Once upon a time, Jacksonville was an industrial and transportation hub of some note. Port met rail downtown and manufacturers were always a right at the heart of the distribution network. The shipyards area used to be an essential loading spot, but it’s largely sat empty for the last few decades.

It’s not for a lack of development interest. There are many who would like to put some business up on the land. The problem is that the land is thoroughly saturated with industrial chemicals and pollutants that didn’t used to be so well regulated.

In fact, Khan’s development firm, Iguana Investments, had negotiated an exclusive right to build up the land parcel.

Except they sat on it, until it expired.

It seems like Khan, despite his billions, has encountered the same reality as every would-be builder before him. Construction plans are nice, but land has limits. Low lying, swampy land, saturated with pollutants is kind of hard to work with.

The city is willing to pay some big bucks to get that land off its books, but it’s passed up multiple opportunities to do reclamation and cleanup. While cleanup doesn’t guarantee a buyer, it’s also important to note that finding a buyer doesn’t guarantee cleanup. Like Berkman Plaza, the city might end up subsidizing a venture that suddenly doesn’t exist – then they’re out the money and still stuck with a polluted plot of land.

Jacksonville goes on, anyway

The new Jacksonville Jaguars season is coming and fans are likely to quickly forgive Khan for his failure to act quickly on the shipyards development. It’s 2020, after all, and who among us hasn’t had our plans disrupted or at least delayed a little?

Mayor Curry, on the other hand, isn’t providing prime football entertainment. It’s likely that the voters won’t look too kindly at his legacy, so although he won’t be eligible to run again for Mayor, he isn’t likely to have much of a hometown advantage if he tries to advance his career to the next level. If Rutherford holds off Donna Deegan’s challenge then retires in 2022, Curry might have a shot at that historically GOP-friendly district. But in a city-wide vote? Or running for a state office? Curry would struggle to show a wide base of local community support. Any such election would also draw attention to the JEA scandal or his mismanagement of various construction initiatives in the city.

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